David Mirkin walks us through cult classic Get A Life (3 of 5)

David Mirkin walks us through cult classic Get A Life (3 of 5)

In connection with the long-awaited release of Get A Life: The Complete Series on DVD, The A.V Club spoke with the series’ showrunner, writer, co-creator, director, and executive producer, David Mirkin, about 16 of our favorite episodes. Following part two’s discussion, this section includes season-one episodes “Zoo Animals On Wheels,” “Chris Vs. Donald,” “Chris Wins A Celebrity,” “The Construction Worker Show,” and “The Big City.”

“Zoo Animals On Wheels” (December 16, 1990)
Chris gets the male lead in a roller-skating, animal-themed musical with Sharon as his leading lady. 

David Mirkin: “Zoo Animals On Wheels” is a great episode. Adam Resnick wrote that, and the kernel of that episode comes from [Chris Elliott’s father] Bob Elliott. It’s a fascinating start. Of all the great stories [Chris] would tell, one of our favorites was about when his father went to see Cats. Bob Elliott is very similar to Chris Elliott; Chris Elliott is like an extroverted version of Bob Elliott. Bob is like any comedian: He sees things as being funny and stupid. He sees the ridiculousness of the world. He went to see Cats and he was appalled, particularly when the characters came down off the stage and started to harass the audience, and he actually got up and walked out. [Laughs.] He said, “I’m not putting up with this bullshit.” He was out of there.

When Chris told this story, everybody was just falling down, and it was like, “Well that has to be an episode.” I had an enormous hatred of Cats, of [Joseph And] The [Amazing] Technicolor Dreamcoat, of Starlight Express, where suddenly onstage people are roller-skating to disco music. It was amazing to me that people weren’t just blowing their own brains out right in the theater when these things would happen. So it was an opportunity to go after everything we hated about that, and obviously Chris had an incredible, sarcastic point of view, and Adam Resnick’s fantastic script, he has that same exact point of view, and did a terrific job of capturing all that. Peter Baldwin directed that episode. He was a director I had brought over from Newhart and just did a fantastic job. Adam wrote those lyrics and then even worked on the music with Stewart Levin, who was our music guy. I was talking to Adam about it recently; we were talking about what our favorite episodes were. Even though this is a giant favorite, I really think it’s been one of the most copied forms, this kind of comedy, sarcastic musical. In a way, it doesn’t stand out as much as it should anymore. Obviously it does for you, which is a good thing, because it’s been so copied, this kind of situation. By no less than us at The Simpsons, too. You’ve just seen it so many times that you can’t even imagine where it began. 

The A.V. Club: Did the “Streetcar Named Marge” episode of The Simpsons air before or after this?

DM: You’d have to go back and see; it’s so complicated.

AVC: It’s from season four.

DM: It’s season four, but the complexity of that is, even if something can look like it happened after us, and season four did happen after [Get A Life’s run], it could have been written almost simultaneously with ours because every Simpsons episode takes nine months. It’s this very tricky… I’ve gone back at times to see who influenced who in this way, and sometimes it’s hard to tell. We’d be talking to each other, we’d be watching each other’s shows and probably even talking about cross-talk story ideas to some extent, but it’s close. It’s got to be close, one way or the other. But even that [Simpsons] play, I don’t think it was as sarcastic and as dripping bile as “Zoo Animals” was. [Laughs.]

AVC: Chris Elliott is so committed in the episode. He looks so disturbing, and when they go into the audience, there’s this look of visceral repulsion on the faces of Bob Elliott and everybody that’s perfect.

DM: There’s so many great lines. [Bob Elliott] goes, “Shoot me Gladys, I’m begging you. Is it possible to die of embarrassment?” Chris is a wildebeest and for absolutely no reason, he makes a cat sound at a woman, which makes her scream, and that’s what turns into the brawl. Somebody gets beaten to death with a giraffe head. It was so much fun. Chris is so brilliant in that episode. I particularly love it when he’s warming up and he comes in and he’s on the ballet bar and he’s going, [Singing.] “Bah bah bah.” He’s just so funny. He’s so in his wheelhouse and just so perfect. It was fun to cast the people in that episode. There’s a woman who sings, “I’m a seal”: That’s Debi Derryberry. That’s literally her name. Debi Derryberry. She had the perfect, perfect annoying perkiness that you have to see when you go to community theater. The thing that was hilarious about doing that episode, too, was when we were casting it, all these people would come out and they would be reading this terrible, terrible, awful play in front of us. So we’re being tortured by it again and again and again, because a bad reading of it was exactly like watching a bad play in community theater. And instead of just seeing it once, we had to see it over three hours, 12 times.

AVC: It seems like that’d be a particularly tough one to shoot, since you essentially have to mount this preposterous, insulting musical. 

DM: It’s surprising what turns out to be ambitious and what isn’t. In a way, the gang show [“Bored Straight”] was more complex because it actually involved outside stuff. The mounting of the play, in itself, is something relatively easy to do. By the way, one of the inside pieces of information on that is that Chris’ roller skates, if you watch them, they don’t roll. Because Chris is not a good roller skater. Instead of having him break his neck or have him fall off that stage, it was easier to make it so the wheels don’t turn. So he’s just clomping around on these roller skates. But that’s actually a very contained thing from a director’s point of view: Everyone’s on this one little piece of stage, and because it’s a play, you’re doing mostly wide shots and close-ups are pretty simple. So that, actually, compared to a lot of Get A Life episodes, is shot quicker than a lot of them, because it was all inside. That even goes for the outside scenes. Peter is a terrific director. That episode was actually one of our easiest ones because it is very contained. When Chris goes into the doghouse at the end, those are all indoor sets. An episode like the gang show, which involved a lot of outdoor shooting and cranes, or even the “Drivers License” show, which involved a high-speed car chase with a car going up on two wheels in the middle of the night, those were much more time-consuming and ambitious, comparatively.

“Chris Vs. Donald” (February 10, 1991)
A family reunion rekindles a bitter rivalry between Chris and his cousin Donald (Jackie Earl Haley), who may be even more pathetic than Chris. 

DM: That’s a fairly ambitious one. Even though that was all tied to one or two sets, mostly, there were so many people in it and so many set-ups for those individual relatives. That was an incredible directing job done by Dwayne Hickman, who, of course, is Dobie Gillis. What I tried to do early on in that first season—part of perverting the sitcom form—was to hire, not only Elinor Donahue [Father Knows Best, The Andy Griffith Show] but to also get Tony Dow to direct, who was Wally from Leave It To Beaver and Dwayne Hickman. Tony did a great job, too. And we loved having Dwayne around. He was such a positive, sweet guy. It’s always great. An actor really knows what other actors need, so they often make terrific directors, particularly for the actor. Sometimes they’re not great with the camera or whatever, but great with the actors. Dwayne was great with both. He did that Donald episode with all those set-ups and just kept it moving, kept everyone moving. He got these great performances from everybody. It’s another great script from Adam Resnick. 

Of course the big coup for me—and the excitement for it—was I had worked with Jackie Earle Haley in The Young Ones and we had always kept in touch and wanted to do something together, and I knew that this was the perfect part for him. He came in and he was so funny and nailed it so well. Chris had such a good time playing off such a great actor. The better the actor against Chris, the better Chris would get, and that’s always the case. So they were just fantastic together. I think my favorite part of that is Chris freaking out in the Chevette, which was a car we all hated. We thought that was a perfect choice. It’s fun, with someone who’s freaking out, to actually cut to the outside of the car and see it happening at a distance. That always cracks me up, someone going nuts at a distance. [Laughs.] Those are the memories of that show; because Dwayne had it so well in hand, it was a fairly simple shoot. And because Jackie and that entire cast was so terrific, it was pretty smooth sailing on that one.

AVC: The character of Donald is interesting in that he’s one of the only characters in the show who appears to be sadder and more delusional than Chris. 

DM: I think that Donald was more of a liar, hiding the fact that he was having some money problems.

AVC: He did have $900, though. 

DM: He did. Nine hundred dollars in his bank account, but he had a late bill or something. He was 10 days behind, which is a terrible thing. And the family members were also deluded about how great he was. The whole family did have trouble processing reality. They were probably at about a four for having trouble processing reality, where Chris was at a nine or a 10. You could see where the seeds of his issue came from in that family. Adam was terrific at capturing that. I think for all of us, it was an opportunity to say how we felt about family in general. [Laughs.] And how much we loved getting together with our relatives. Something we truly celebrate.

“Chris Wins A Celebrity” (February 24, 1991)
Chris wins some time with an obnoxious television personality (Martin Mull), but this ostensible blessing quickly turns into a curse.

DM: There was great hope the entire time we were developing that episode, great hope and great belief, that David Letterman was going to play that role. That was the whole reason for the story and the whole impetus behind it. Dave was a fan of Get A Life. I read an interview with myself, which is a weird thing—I was sent a whole bunch of material from 1991, so hearing myself say these embarrassing things in ’91—and apparently I had information that Dave Letterman had agreed to do the show if he would be on the screen no longer than 10 minutes. I have no memory of that, but apparently that was my belief system at the time. And we wrote a script that clearly had him on screen longer than that, so it’s really funny that I apparently had that in my head and then didn’t care. [Laughs.] And we still came up with a script he was much larger in, which is kind of stupid in a way, but was necessary to do that story. And that was the story we wanted to tell. Chris and Adam were talking to Dave and Dave was interested, and it’s moving forward. Then one day Chris came to me and said, “I talked to Dave, and it’s not looking as good, because today he said to me, ‘You know, I have a day job.’” [Laughs.] And that’s sort of the way that Dave will tell you that maybe this isn’t going to happen. Very quickly I then talked to, I think it was probably Laurie Diamond, his right hand at that point, and she was like, “Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” and that was that. 

So now I’m faced with having this really great script but not the person, and so I sort of went into hunker-down mode to figure out who could play this role. I can’t remember for sure whether we went out to anybody, because nobody comes to mind. I think I went through a long list of people. I will say as a joke that I got a huge amount of no’s in a very short amount of time, but I don’t really think there was a list of people who could do it, because Dave had a very specific attitude and… [We were] always looking at the clock to not burn ourselves out, working very, very hard. So this was a very serious problem where if you have to do a big rewrite on a script, you’re adding two or three days to your work time or going into a weekend. You start to get a very important thing called diminishing returns where you get too tired to ever catch up to yourself. If you’re working until 4 in the morning, you can do that, but you can’t do it consistently. You have to take a break or you’re never going to recover, and you’re going to start writing crap and things aren’t going to make sense. You’re not going to be able to function at the high level you need to function to do a good show. There’s a lot of people that don’t understand that. Rest is as important as anything because the human mind can only do so much. You can push it really far, but you can't push it 24/7. Some shows get into that, and they eventually start chasing their own tails and things are not good at that point. I’ve never really seen a show that’s been good that’s worked that kind of insanity. There’s a danger of having to rewrite too much, and it makes everything like dominos that are going to fall. So I really wanted to find somebody that had the same voice. 

I went through lists and lists and lists. Then finally it hit me: It was Martin Mull. Because Martin Mull had done Fernwood 2 Night, and Fernwood 2 Night is very much like Late Night With David Letterman, a sarcastic talk show. He was the first sarcastic talk-show host that had an edge and was kind of dark. And the truth is, Martin’s attitude is incredibly similar to David Letterman’s attitude. The truth is, you could have Martin come in and do that script, and virtually nothing had to change; it was organic to characters he played. A very nice man. Also incredibly talented. He’s a great guitar player. He’s a fantastic artist. And all in his own right. Also a terrific comedic actor. In his stand-up, he used to play his guitar, too. He’s a serious guitar player and has various albums as well as his art that has been almost everywhere. He came on incredibly short notice. He was the hero of the story, and, in fact, it was so short notice that he couldn’t come for the first three days of rehearsal. I don’t know why this happened, but I got chosen to play Martin Mull for the first three days. Then I was fired, and Martin Mull took over. The one thing that came out of that, Dean Parisot directed that episode and did a fantastic job, and it was really great to be in this funny Adam Resnick script and be directed by Dean. The one thing that came out of that is the P.O.V. where they’re saying the prayers or Martin starts to eat, and he looks up and sees the family looking at him, Chris and Bob and Elinor. I saw that because I’m sitting in that seat, and I look up and I see them looking at me. And those actors are so funny I said, “Oh, we’ve got to get a camera in here and get that exact P.O.V.” Dean did a great job of nailing that shot.

But that’s the story. Martin came in and he nailed the thing in two days. He was fantastic. But if you do it in your head, and you put David Letterman in there you see it’s the identical attitude and lines, and it works perfectly for Martin. 

“The Construction Worker Show” (April 7, 1991)
Chris becomes obsessed with the construction workers working on his parents’ home and attempts to join their strange secret society. 

DM: “The Construction Worker Show” was, in talking to Adam recently, what might be our favorite collaboration. He had this great idea, the construction workers coming, which I had never heard anything like that before. It was a terrific idea. Again, it was perfect to the original concept of Get A Life, which was just playing Chris like a child, his reaction to construction workers coming. Of course, because Chris is older it becomes a much creepier, sicker thing. [Laughs.] It’s perfect. It was so much fun to direct that episode because it had a good amount of voiceover, and by using that technique it freed me up to move the camera around a lot more. If the character is not talking or interacting with somebody or alone, you have the opportunity to get cinematic, and that was good fun. Then there was the casting of the construction workers, and Ritch Brinkley was the main guy, Dick, who I had worked with on Newhart and I loved him as an actor. He’s one of the most extraordinary actors I think I’ve ever met. He came in, and he just nailed it; he was so funny. I’ll, of course, blank on the other names, one of them was Bob Dylan’s drummer when he went electric, Mickey [Jones]. The other guy is Peter Spellos, another terrific actor. 

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So the three of them were so terrific, and Adam had that idea that the construction workers come and the entire story was going to be about Chris winning them over. I felt it needed more conflict. Because of my own experiences owning a house, I brilliantly came up with the idea that they’re ripping off his father. [Laughs.] I couldn’t believe that wasn't in the original story. I couldn’t understand a story about construction workers that didn’t involve some sort of terrible rip-off. From that, I wanted to do this tool-belt fight idea. It’s a typical thing: Adam would think more in terms of the child thing and just trying to win the people over; of course Dave wants to turn it into a giant fight. I figure that that could be something that could be fun to direct, a nice fight scene. I’m trying to think if up to that time we’d done any kind of coordinated fight scene. We might not have. And so it was exciting. With that change, this is how we worked out the story together, and then Adam went off. You just give Adam information like that, and he comes back with this fantastic script and it was great. It was also a bit of a change because that tool-belt fight scene took about a half a day to shoot, because it was a lot of tight angles and it was a lot of coordination in it. It was so much fun to direct that entire episode because, like I said, lots of moving cameras, a nice coordinated fight scene, and music and movement together. It was great because Mickey actually played the guitar, so he’s really playing the guitar, “Amazing Grace” and everything.

The other thing I would say is this is where surreal meets budget. Adam had originally written that they go out on the street yelling at the women who are walking by, like construction workers will do. That would involve building a new set, so I figured, “We’re already in the back yard, let’s just add a line like, ‘We’ll yell at the woman who walks through my yard for some unknown reason.’” That saves about $30,000 of building a new set and also becomes a good surreal joke. It did the same thing when we did the meat-locker episode, where Sharon has a meat locker right in her staircase in her living room, a full-size, walk-in meat locker. That kept you from having to build a basement set and any other outdoor set that would lead you into the meat locker, and it also was hilariously funny that suddenly a meat locker that you never saw before or after that particular episode. 

AVC: You talked about the childlike quality of Chris. On one hand, it’s a weird innocence, in that he wants to believe in things whether they make sense or not, but at the same time he has a lot of the negative qualities of childhood as well. He’s very self-absorbed, kind of oblivious, not really understanding how the world works, but having this desperate need to believe in things, even if it’s something as ridiculous as the innate dignity of construction workers.

DM: [Laughs.] That’s right. He starts out very childlike about things. I think that’s one of the secrets to his likability. He approaches things without any cynicism at all, but will become super-cynical at the first sight of trouble. Sometimes not at the first time, sometimes at the 100th sight of trouble. But then that turn to cynicism will be incredibly intense. [Sneering.] “All right, missy,” you know? He’ll just go right from that. That’s what’s so funny, those turns on a dime. But yeah, it’s what’s likable about him. It starts out from the most optimistic point of view most of the time, and that’s what it was with the construction workers. It became this perfect thing where he’s winning them over and he does win them over, but then he finds out that they’re actually doing this terrible thing. Then he has a fight to the death, which only results in about a $5 reduction in the bill. [Laughs.]

AVC: With Chris, it seems like it takes an extraordinarily long time for stuff to sink in, even stuff others would find achingly apparent. 

DM: I would say it was one of the more difficult things to shoot. This will jump you back to the “Bored Straight” show: One of my favorite jokes that I put in that show was, I wanted him to get hit in the back. Actually, I think I wrote it first to see if they were throwing glass bottles at his head. He goes back looking for the gang, and he doesn’t find them at first. And he’s looking down at a candy-bar wrapper, and these bottles start smashing against his head, but he doesn’t notice. Like, three bottles break against his head, and one of the network notes—now I’m remembering—said, “Please don’t have Chris get hit in the face with bottles, because it’s too replicable.” So I changed it to he gets hit in the back with bottles, because quite frankly it was going to be hard to hit him in the head with bottles again and again. You know, most of the Stooges died from strokes. It’s great fun to watch them get hit in the head all the time, but I’m not kidding, it took its toll. Curly actually had a stroke. And he’s in some episodes of the Stooges after the stroke, and he’s not the same. You have to be careful. 

Part of the running commentary in the DVDs is, I point out again and again, “Here’s a funny thing that’s actually very dangerous and very painful. Here’s another funny thing that looks very funny, but could actually result in death.” Like getting the car up on two wheels, that’s a very funny stunt. There’s only one guy, they told me, I think it was true, there was only one guy in all of America that could do that stunt, and it was a very dangerous stunt that we were doing at 3 in the morning. If he had rolled the car, he could have died because the windows were open. So you’re doing something that’s right on the edge of being funny, and if it goes wrong… It was even when they were hanging from the roller coaster [in “Terror On The Hell Loop 2000]. They were 15 feet off the ground, and there’s a pad down there, but there’s hundreds of pounds of material that had it broken free, they wouldn’t have been able to turn around, they would have fallen on their heads, they were strapped into hundreds of pounds of the cars. It would have killed them. Or paralyzed them. It’s this funny thing where you’re doing comedy, but if it goes wrong, it instantly turns into real death. When I dropped the boulder on him at the end of “Married,” that too, if it was off by even a couple of inches on either side it would have killed him. In that case it was a stunt man, but it would have done serious damage to him. Because it was hundreds of pounds, that boulder, and it had to fall right in the breakaway part. It was the same thing with this bottle.

So we changed it to bottles hitting his back and breaking and he wouldn’t notice them. I was throwing the bottles, too. I would often throw things at him, being the director; it just seemed more intimate and right to do that. If anyone was going to hurt him, it made sense that it would be me. So I’m throwing the breakaway bottles, and they’re not breaking because he’s too doughy, he’s too fat. And because of that, the energy had nowhere to go, so it started to kill, it started hurting. [Laughs.] It hurts if they don’t break. If they do break, it doesn't hurt. I had to put a board in his back. If you go and look, there’s a piece of wood back there. And that’s what the bottles are hitting. It was difficult for him, particularly by the time we hit upon a solution, it was difficult for him to not wince. And the whole idea is he’s not supposed to wince because it takes three whole bottles before he realizes what’s happening. He actually never notices until they call his name. So when you’re saying slow processing of information, it brought up that particular image and all the work it took to get a joke like that.

“The Big City” (April 21, 1991)
Chris leaves his comfy little suburban hamlet for the Big City, where he loses his wallet and becomes a beloved folk hero: “Walletboy.” 

DM: “The Big City” came from Adam wanting the smaller character-oriented thing and Dave going, “Let’s turn it into a fight to the death.” It’s a similar thing. Chris would always, just in chatting in the room, we were always fighting East Coast vs. West Coast, because I’m [in L.A.] and he’s coming to visit out here to shoot the show, but he prefers New York. I say, “How can you live there?” To me a big city is, I love New York for two weeks, and then it’s too much stimulation for me. I’m the weird guy in the cabin in the woods. I’d like to have a hundred acres, and if I saw another human I could legally shoot them. That’s what makes me comfortable. But he doesn’t mind that kind of stuff, and he said, “I particularly love New York in the ’40s and ’50s.” He said, “That’s so magical to me.” It really is. I think he’s feeling the huge success of his dad at that point, and all the romanticism that was probably going on, it just permeates his family. He said, “I’d just love it if I visited the city and for no reason, it’s the ’50s.” 

And when he said that to me, I got concerned because… By the way, I hate this about this aspect of my job, because when I was a little kid doing this stuff in my basement, you never thought about budget, but then you get beat up so much in this business that everything hits you in numbers. So when he says that I go, “Well how am I going to afford to be able to have…” We weren’t even saying to do it as an episode, but I knew it was an idea. I said, “I’d like to do it. It’s an interesting idea, but how are we going to do it?” I knew all about how Coppola shot The Godfather. It was so much work. He had to frame everything in New York so you would just see what you needed to see, because he had no money. So it was every car you saw and every railing you saw were the only car and railing that would work in the shot. One foot to the left or one foot to the right and you were suddenly back in 1970, and everything was going to be ruined. I couldn’t afford to do even that. Then I remembered that there were plates. You normally think about plates when, just as back plates, but the truth is in the old days, they not only shot back plates, but they shot side plates as well so you could do the side angles. So I said to our line producer David Latt, “Go see if we can get some back plates.” And luckily Paramount had these beautiful color back plates of New York that had the angles on them. I looked at all that footage and realized, okay, we can do an episode about this and that’s going to be New York. And I had the idea of the doors, like Oz, opening up the doors and suddenly that’s what New York was. 

I started to come up with this story that he gets in trouble with the underworld, and Chris said, “Eh, I think I should just lose my wallet.” And I thought, “That’s a good idea,” but me being me, I still wanted it to be gigantic. I felt it needed to be big. Because it was going to be about the city, I wanted the whole city involved. So I figured, “Great, he loses his wallet, but it becomes a giant front-page story.” I’m always thinking stupid mobs and mob mentalities. That’s what always cracks me up. That was the perfect combination. Anyway, Marjorie Gross, writing that script again, that is where her wheelhouse was. Writing dialogue from the movies of the ’40s and ’50s, that’s all her. That fast-talking dame banter, that’s almost how Margie talked in real life, so those lines and the way they’re talking, that’s just really, really great Margie stuff. 

I structured the story around the footage that we had available. “We know we have this street thing. We know we have that street thing. We know we have the taxicab footage. We want to have a nice love scene in a taxicab.” One of the things that was so exciting for me was I had… Usually the canned music that you buy, you can buy those CDs that have score on them. They’re usually terrible, they’re not tuneful, they’re usually recorded very quickly and not with the best musicians. But somebody found and gave me these four or five CDs; they were part of a set, and you could license the music on these CDs and they were these incredible orchestral recordings that sounded like they were recorded in the ’50s. I don’t know if they were. A lot of times, particularly if you don’t have a lot of money… We had a great music guy, Stewart Levin, but he had to work with synthesizers a lot, and we couldn’t afford to have a big string set or anything. You’re trying to explain to them what you want, and they don’t have a long time to write it. And to do something incredibly melodic and moving is difficult in a short amount of time. I had these CDs, they had great cuts on them, and I was able to take the episode home and score it at home with the CDs. So all the music you hear on “The Big City” is from these CDs, and I still think it’s beautiful. The love scene in it when they’re in the taxicab and everything is really moving and pretty in the midst of all this insanity. So that was enormous fun. Peter Baldwin, again, directed that episode, mostly in front of green screen. We had to reshoot a lot of it. That was a time you had to be really careful with pin registration with the cameras, and we had one camera that had trouble with the pin registration. So we had to go back and redo it so there wouldn’t be too much jitter between the characters and the back plates we were using, so they wouldn’t seem to be bouncing up and down against each other. That’s really where it came from. 

The network’s point of view was, they begged me, “Can’t it please be a dream?” Very upset. I probably never said this to anybody. You can have it. What I’ve realized, I’ve always had it in the back of my head, and I always forget to say it. An enormous amount of Get A Life could possibly be Chris Peterson’s psychotic fantasy. In other words, everything you’re seeing, because he’s in virtually every scene and every frame, really the entire world that he’s occupying, he may also be creating simultaneously. So that’s why all these things can happen. It actually kind of makes sense that, in a way, it could all be Chris Peterson, not a dream, but a psychotic-break fantasy, anything that happened to him at any time. 

AVC: “The Big City” is one of several episodes that seem to take place in a weird sort of time warp. It’s as rooted in the distant past as the ostensible present. 

DM: “The Big City” is really this perfect weirdness upon weirdness, but by keeping those rules—just like you’re recognizing—everything that we were parodying and making fun of, we’re doing that very carefully so it doesn’t get too crazy. People make that mistake, “Oh! Anything can happen! It’s totally crazy!” No, no, no. It has a logic to it. It has a crazy logic to it, but something you can follow. Something you can track. It’s an insane track, but it’s a very, very specific one. One of the things that I’m most proud of about “The Big City” is that you have a sitcom that’s strangely happening in the ’60s, it’s a twisted Leave It To Beaver, that now has traveled back in time. It’s like there’s no anchor, in that sense. [Laughs.] As soon as you think, “Well, I sort of understand, it’s a twisted…” “No! No! It’s not! Now you’re there!” Again, that’s part of the excitement. Go anywhere, do anything, and hopefully be able to do it well and accurately.

One of the things I’m most proud about that episode, going along we didn’t have an ending, and it was the time I felt the most like I was in show business, because the crew was so fantastic. At the very end, I had written into the script that they throw him out, they shut him out with the doors. And he tries to get back in with the key to the city, and they say they’ve changed the locks. 

That was a joke that I wrote, and it was an all right joke, but it wasn’t a great ending. Then it hit me to have him say, “Okay, you’re going to forgive me, and I’m going to wait. I don’t care how long it takes.” Then he sits down, and he turns into a skeleton. Now, I came up with that, and from the time I came up with that and the time we shot it was about an hour, because we were toward the end of the episode, and we didn't have an ending and I said, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.” So they actually went out, sirens blaring, to get the skeleton and get it aged up and get it changed. I never saw anyone running so fast, because we only had an hour from the time it was written to the time it was executed, and that was the same thing. In addition to having the skeleton, I was also really thrilled that it hit me that the city does forgive him, and they put the skeleton in the parade. Again, that parade music is off those CDs. I put this out to you and anybody: Anybody who recognizes that music and knows what CDs they came from, please contact me and tell me because I want to get them back. I lent them to my dear friend James Taylor. He was here, and he was going to produce an album for Spalding Gray. I was raving about these CDs, and James got it in his head that these would be good for his Spalding Gray record, and he said, “Can I borrow them?” Now, when James borrows something, it’s like throwing something into a black hole. They were gone. They were so gone from that moment, and I’ve never been able to get them back, so I’m always interested in what that music was because it was very cool. I don’t really know how to track them down.


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